Polystyrene and Styrofoam are some of the most widely used types of plastic. They’ve become the go-to lightweight solution across various industries, given their low cost. Whether it’s fast-food packaging, cushioning for your fragile deliveries, or basic insulation, it’s something you might encounter daily. And that’s precisely the problem.
Styrofoam is by no means an eco-friendly or environmental solution. All Styrofoam leaves its mark. That’s where Styrofoam alternatives come in. It’s no wonder that more countries have put a ban on Styrofoam. With consumers and multiple industries taking a stand against polystyrene products, we must continue to explore genuine, sustainable alternatives, wiping out Styrofoam use altogether. To get you started, we’ve put together a list of the top Styrofoam substitutes, unpacking their pros and cons.
What Is The Ban On Styrofoam?
New York kickstarted January 2022 with a ban on expanded Polystyrene foam containers and “packing peanuts” used for cushioning with online deliveries. Banning single-use plastics is becoming more and more widespread, starting with plastic bags and straws. While dozens of US cities and counties have banned Styrofoam food packaging, peanuts, and coolers, (most are in California) as of today, there are only eight state-level bans in Colorado, Main, Maryland, New York, New Jersey, Vermont, Virginia, and Washington State.
In 2017 when the U.S withdrew from the Paris Climate Accord, grassroots organizations sprung into action, doubling their efforts to push conscious consumerism. To date, most cities and states have community-driven advocacy groups pushing for environmental legislation on a local level. You guessed it, one of the products receiving the most attention is Styrofoam, and it’s no wonder why.
The Pros And Cons of Styrofoam
Before we unpack the pros and cons of Styrofoam substitutes, let’s take a moment to understand the ins and outs of Styrofoam itself.
Expanded Polystyrene provides top-quality lightweight insulation. That’s why it’s so prevalent in the foodservice industry. You can serve piping hot coffee in a Styrofoam cup, and it’ll maintain the heat all while preventing your fingers from burning. Better yet, it’ll keep your to-go food warm or cold until you have the chance to eat it, providing a solution to keep food fresh for longer. Styrofoam is moldable, making it easy to create various containers in all shapes and sizes. On top of that, it weighs less than paper, making it an easy solution for cushioning in packages.
Styrofoam’s impact on the environment is extensive. While many believe it’s biodegradable or recyclable, Styrofoam is far from eco-friendly. It may break down in high temperatures, but it pollutes our earth with alarming volumes of microplastics, affecting animals and humans alike.
You can recycle only some forms of Polystyrene, but it’s incredibly costly. Most local recycling plants aren’t equipped with the right machinery. On top of that, recycled Styrofoam can’t be used again in the foodservice industry, defeating the whole purpose of recycling in the first place.
To make matters worse, Styrofoam is made from nonrenewable fossil fuels and synthetic chemicals, all of which contribute to pollution.
Top Five Styrofoam Alternatives
1. Cruz Foam
Cruz Foam offers an earth-friendly plastic alternative to Styrofoam. The foam is created with naturally-sourced biopolymers. Unlike the synthetic chemicals used in Styrofoam production, biopolymers are sourced from nature while having the same technical properties. The foam is certified compostable, producing bio-benign organic waste with the stamp of approval from USDA Bio-based Preferred.
Cruz Foam offers natural solutions to meet similar technical specifications to legacy materials, offering scalable solutions to various industries. Better yet, Cruz Foam utilizes existing manufacturing equipment and personnel, making the transition seamless on all fronts and creating new green jobs.
Cruz Foam takes approximately 4 months to fully compost in an industrial compost setting. Although this seems like a lengthy bit of time, it’s a far cry from many other alternatives or Styrofoam itself, which takes hundreds of years. Plus, Cruz Foam has yielded a 97.9% average biodegradation in soil lab testing, with zero adverse effects on compost quality and produces high-quality fertilizer.
2. PLA Lined Paper
Polylactic Acid (PLA) lined paper is an excellent sustainable alternative to Styrofoam food packaging. It’s a plant-based resin made from corn starch used to create compostable containers and liners for cups or packaging to avoid water damage. It’s a solution for hot and cold products, withstanding temperatures between 32 and 185℉, and you can use it in the microwave or the oven.
PLA lined paper has poor heat transfer. Unlike a Styrofoam cup which protects your hands from burning, a PLA lined paper cup gets hot, making it difficult to touch without a layer of protection.
3. Edible Packing Peanuts
While they may not be as tasty as natural peanuts, you can replace Styrofoam packing peanuts with compostable ones made from corn, grain sorghum, and other crops like wheat. They dissolve in water, and you can throw them onto your compost piles after a single-use, leaving zero harmful traces behind. Plus, they have no electrostatic charge meaning they won’t stick to your clothing.
Compostable packing peanuts are heavier than traditional Styrofoam peanuts, meaning there’s an inevitable increase in shipping costs. It’s also more expensive to produce with crops like corn taking up space that could have otherwise been used for food production. In a challenging economy, it’s a tricky alternative.
4. Plantable Packaging
Plantable packaging incorporates seeds allowing consumers to bury the packaging in the soil. Utilizing new technology, it’s a 100% compostable and plantable product. While it disintegrates, flowers and herbs flourish! All you have to do as a consumer is soak the box in water and then bury it one inch below the surface.
Plantable packaging can’t withstand water, making it an inappropriate foodservice solution. There’s certainly room for it in product packaging, but there are limits when it comes to sizing.
5. Mineral Filled Polypropylene
Mineral filled polypropylene products (MFFP) contain 50% less plastic than standard polypropylene products, drastically reducing the amount of plastic required. Instead of plastic, it’s made with mineral content. It’s a great solution for hot and cold foods, and it’s microwaveable, with a temperature tolerance of 240℉.
While it reduces the total volume of plastic, it doesn’t eliminate it. That’s where it falls short as a long-term solution. On top of that, you can’t recycle it, making it a mediocre alternative.
Start Using Alternatives Today!
Styrofoam products are the easy way out. They may be cheaper or lighter, but their overarching impact on the environment is monumental. That’s where the quest for an appropriate alternative becomes a priority. Use this list to kickstart a change that makes a global impact.
Written by Maya Jensen